Of Blackouts and Bandhs: The Strategy and Structure of Disconnected Protest in India
54 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2019
Date Written: February 7, 2019
State governments in India have executed approximately half of the world’s known network shutdowns – large-scale, deliberate disruptions of Internet connectivity, cell phone service, or social media. India is also a hotbed of collective action with widely varying degrees of organization and coordination, which are partially determined by the identities of the primary participants. However, no independent assessment of the effects of such information vacuums on the strategy and structure of collective action exists, for India or any other state. In this study, I expand on a previously formulated theory of disconnective action by examining how structural and strategic characteristics affect collective action responses during a network shutdown in an extreme case via statistical analysis. Shutdowns are found to be much more strongly associated with increases in violent collective action than with non-violent mobilization. However, a breakdown of the structure of individual protest events reveals weak effects for both organized and ‘leaderless’ collective action during a shutdown. On the other hand, the co-occurrence of state violence with a shutdown is found to encourage non-violent action. The findings imply that information blackouts compel participants in collective action in India to substitute non-violent tactics for violent ones that are less reliant on effective communication and coordination. While they may sometimes disrupt structured and non-violent protest, this effect is highly inconsistent. The analysis creates a precedent for other subnational studies of digital repression and adds to the discussion on extreme means of controlling (dis)information flows online.
Keywords: network shutdowns, Internet, collective action, protest, India, communication technology, human rights, digital, censorship, information control, disinformation, Internet shutdowns
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation